Neil was a normal kid growing up. He loved action figures and dedicated much of his time to Pokémon cards. He giggled and played just as much as he caused trouble and whined. He always loved to be the center of attention. I, unlike him, viewed everything on the sidelines. He was the boss, and I followed. I’ve never looked up to anyone like I have my big brother. In my little eyes, he was graceful and wise, funny and unstoppable. We fought all the time, practically driving our mom crazy, but I never wanted to be like anyone more. It was this way for years.
Over time, the trouble began. During middle school and throughout high school, he developed a major inferiority complex. Of course, he would try to hide it, but I saw. He was fading. The things he once owned were now beginning to own him. The brother that I knew was being replaced by a shadow of a person. Hollow and cold, this shadow lacked confidence, and thus was living to simply conform. It shaped itself to be perfect in the eyes of others — it bowed to their will, pleading for their approval. The pressure began to be too much, and the dark creature took over my brother completely as it dove down into a dark abyss. This unknown void that my brother was smothered into was driven by drugs, and completed with alcohol.
Neil was trying to stay alive, to overcome the addiction that was suffocating him. I could see him growing tired and weakening every day.
This continued for years. My brother was completely dependent on substances for survival. To this day, I’m not sure when exactly it happened, when Neil realized he needed help. It could have been the point when he noticed his body was so dependent on pills, he would get sick when he didn’t take them. Maybe it was when he saw the look in our mom’s eyes as she strained herself to keep him afloat. Maybe it wasn’t one thing at all — it could have been dropping out of college, spending his paychecks on drugs, even stealing from our mom. All of it somehow contributed to his breaking point. Whatever it was, I came home from school one day and my brother was gone.
It wasn’t until later my mom explained that he had gone to rehab. At the time, I wondered if it would even help. But when I saw him for the first time after he had left, I immediately knew my brother was coming back to us.
I sat in the passenger seat playing with my phone as my mom drove our family to Williamsburg to visit Neil. When we arrived two hours later, I woke up groggy from a short nap. I saw him come out and get in the car, but I didn’t get a real look at him until we were all in the Walmart parking lot fifteen minutes later.
He was clean cut with short hair. Instead of wearing the baggy shirts that I had grown so accustomed to, he was now wearing khaki pants with a long-sleeved gray sweater. He no longer had blotchy hairs covering his chin from weeks of no shaving; in fact, it looked like he had shaved that morning. The rose color had returned to his cheeks, and his skin didn’t look quite as transparent. His eyes were bright and full of life. However, it wasn’t just his appearance that changed. His personality had, too.
In his darkest days, my brother had grown to be irritable and full of rage. The aggression had dissolved from his expression, replaced by playful sarcasm and jokes. I could see that the shadow still lingered in the air around him, but not in the same way. Neil was now strong, he had the power back in his struggle with his demons. He was returning to the big brother that I grew up with and loved.
Neil is still working to stay afloat, but now, he’s in control. He has a great job now, lives on his own and reads millions of books. I like to joke sometimes and call him “Buddha,” because he’s become very aware of himself and the world. I’m incredibly proud of my brother. He faced down addiction. He still works today to keep it at bay. His recovery is and will be a part of his life forever.
He may think himself weak in his times of temptation, but my big brother is still the strongest person I know.